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WSU Government Relations Newsbeat

WSU Sleep Researcher Testifies Before Congress

Dr. Gregory Belenky, director of the WSU Sleep and Performance Research Center, testified in front of the U.S. Senate Aviation, Operations, Safety and Security subcommittee yesterday on the importance of sleep and air traffic controllers’ effectiveness on the job.

Dr. Belenky shakes hands with WA Senator Maria Cantwell after the hearing.

Dr. Belenky (center) discusses the hearing with FAA Administrator J. Randolph Babbitt (left) and Transportation Department Inspector General Calvin Scovel III.  Also testifying at the hearing was National Air Traffic Controllers Association President Paul Rinaldi.

Dr. Belenky’s research in the sleep lab at WSU Spokane supports the idea of providing air traffic controllers with on the job napping built into their work schedule.  The sub-committee may consider new regulations on the FAA to control safety oversight as a result of the recent increase in air-traffic controller errors.

Read a full report on the hearing here: The Seattle PI
Read more about Dr. Belenky here: WSU Today story

No surprises for WSU in compromise budget

The compromise operating budget introduced by legislative leaders and approved by the House Tuesday would cut WSU’s state appropriation by $108 million, or about 26 percent.

That represents a slight improvement over proposals earlier put forth by the House and Senate. The net cut would be kept to $39 million, or 5.2 percent, with the implementation of 16 percent tuition increases authorized in the budget.

The spending proposal also incorporated most of the changes sought by WSU to help manage its cuts. The plan does not dictate how the university must achieve compensation savings, for example.

The proposal was approved 54-42 in the House Tuesday evening and now needs approval in the Senate before today’s scheduled adjournment of the Legislature’s 30-day special session.

Also needing approval is a capital budget. An agreement was reached Tuesday morning after all-night negotiations produced a path forward for a debt reduction plan. An actual budget proposal and project list is expected to be announced this morning.

Budget compromise to be unveiled at 10

The word is out that legislative leaders have reached agreement on an operating budget compromise to close a shortfall of more than $5 billion.

All the details are scheduled to be made public at 10 this morning. You can read about it here and here and watch the press conference at You’ll be able to find the budget documents themselves here.

There’s still no word of any agreement on a debt reduction measure that would allow for the passage of a capital budget and legislative leaders are talking openly about not having one.

Legislature moving toward adjournment?

After a busy weekend in the statehouse it appears as though the Legislature is progressing toward adjournment. This would come not a week too soon as its 30-day special session is due to expire on Wednesday.

You can read more about key developments here and here.

There is still a lot of work to be done before lawmakers can leave town. An operating budget agreement has yet to be announced and there is no resolution so far as to a debt reduction measure that would pave the way for the passage of a capital budget.

In addition, WSU is tracking a pension bill that, as approved by the Senate, would allow universities to continue to offer a defined contribution retirement plan to exempt staff. It needs a concurrence vote in the House.

And on a final note, the Senate on Sunday gave final approval to a bill that would replace the state’s Higher Education Coordinating Board with a new Council for Higher Education. Many functions of the HEC Board would still exist and be transferred to other entities after the board sunsets on July 1, 2012. The membership and responsibilities of the newly formed council would be determined by a steering committee.

University Center bill hailed as a “triumph of persistence”

The weekend papers featured a couple of opinion pieces worth noting that hailed last week’s signing of legislation that would create a pathway for WSU to assume management of the University Center of North Puget Sound in 2014.
This Seattle Times editorial hailed the development as a “triumph of persistence”.
And this column co-authored by Sens. Mary Margaret Haugen and Nick Harper appeared in the Everett Herald. In it, they assert the bill represents “a major victory for North Puget Sound residents.”

Governor signs North Puget Sound University Center bill

Governor Christine Gregoire this afternoon signed Senate Bill 5636, creating a pathway for WSU to gain management of the University Center in Everett in 2014.
The bill won’t actually take effect until the state’s Higher Education Coordinating Board considers whether the matter must first go through its systems design review process. With the HEC Board’s blessing, a coordinating and planning council would draft a strategic plan for appropriate baccalaureate expansion at the center to submit to the Legislature along with a budget. The Legislature must approve future expansions.
WSU also would be required to begin an engineering program at the center.
University President Elson Floyd and regents Laura Jennings and Connie Niva participated in the bill signing ceremony along with an array of key legislators and North Puget Sound community leaders and stakeholders.

State Update: Tuition flexibility bill clears House 79-17

The state House of Representatives Monday afternoon approved a bill granting Washington’s six public four-year universities tuition setting authority for eight years beginning this fall.  House Bill 1795 was approved 79-17 and now heads to the Senate, where it likely will be sent to the Ways and Means Committee.

The bill would give universities a choice of setting tuition rates up to levels prescribed in the budget as is currently done or exceed that threshold and trigger new financial aid obligations for low and middle income students.

Either way, all universities would increase what they put into financial aid programs. Currently, 3.5 percent of all tuition revenue is held back for financial aid. Under the bill, that figure would increase to 4 percent for universities that do not exceed tuition thresholds listed in the budget and 5 percent for those that do.

This authority would last for four years.  Universities then would have authority to set rates for an additional four years with limits tied to rates seen in other Global Challenge States.

The bill also contains new performance and accountability requirements and would authorize universities to set differential tuition rates for high cost programs, though those differential rates could trigger new financial aid requirements.

State Update: Looking back, looking ahead

Things are ghostly quiet in the state capital today as the second week of the Legislature’s 30-day special session has now come and gone. And while an end is not yet in sight, there are a few noteworthy items to pass along.

First, the governor announced this week that a tax amnesty program designed to give businesses a chance to catch up on their back taxes penalty free netted far, far more than was anticipated. For the state, it’s a windfall of $182 million which can be used to help narrow the spending gap between House and Senate budget proposals.

The Olympian’s Brad Shannon has a good recap here.

Also of note, the Senate Ways and Means Committee on Thursday advanced House Bill 1981 after making key changes that would allow WSU to continue to offer a defined contribution plan to new professional staff. The underlying bill would have directed such staffers to participate in the state’s PERS system. WSU and other state universities argued that would prevent staff from being offered a portable retirement plan that they could easily transfer assets from as their career path takes them to other jobs with defined contribution retirement plans down the road.

The bill, with all of its changes, now must be approved by the full Senate before being sent back to the House.

Finally, there’s been lots of work going on behind the scenes on House Bill 1795, which would grant state universities a four-year window in which they could set their own tuition rates subject to a series of conditions. A vote in the House could come as soon as early next week. So stay tuned.